Police officers recall former headquarters

Richmond County sheriff's Lt. Jimmy Wylds remembers the old Augusta Police Station as something out of a cops-and-robbers movie he saw as a kid.

The former city policeman was only 18 when he began his law enforcement career in the now-empty building about 32 years ago.

"Back then it was what I envisioned a police station and a jail to be," said Lt. Wylds, who was just out of high school when he joined a police cadet program.

The recent announcement that the former headquarters might be razed for downtown development has many remembering their days working there. With consolidation of the city and county in the 1990s, many of the former city policemen still serve in law enforcement with the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

They say they have fond memories of the two-story, 15,000-square-foot brick building at the corner of Reynolds and Ninth streets, which housed the Augusta Police Department for more than 60 years. It was, for many, the heyday of their careers -- when car chases and the occasional practical joke were common.

A national developer is considering building condominiums and a hotel on the site.

Lt. Wylds remembers the cheese sandwiches that were the staple of the jail inmates' diet -- and the few who couldn't get enough of them.

Much like the character Otis on The Andy Griffith Show , there were the regular town drunks, some of whom would try to get arrested before the end of the night for a place to stay and a meal.

The demolition of the building was approved during a March 27 meeting of the Richmond County Historic Preservation Commission and a representative of the developer, according to Planning Commissioner George Patty. The building will stand until the developer can produce a complete site plan, which it has a year to do, Mr. Patty said.

Even when it's gone, Lt. Tony Walden, now the head of the property crimes division at the sheriff's office, will still be able to remember the spot where he started his career. Pictures of the building decorate his office.

He recalls meeting in the roll call room to collect the day's assignment, which he wrote on a bulletin and stuck in his police cap. On his first day, Lt. Walden said, he was collecting his gear when a supervisor asked him why he had stuck his bullets in his pocket, instead of his new .38 caliber pistol.

"He said, 'What are you doing?' " Lt. Walden said. "I remember saying, 'I ain't going to load my gun. I don't want to hurt anybody.' "

When Deputy Bob Durland walked his Broad Street beat for the department during the evening hours in the late 1950s, rowdy, drunk men and women would often line the street.

After the bars closed at 2 a.m., they would pile into a nearby 24-hour diner for a late-night meal, he said.

Deputy Durland, who retired from the department and later returned to work at the Richmond County jail, said soldiers from Fort Gordon and workers from Savannah River Site kept downtown full on the weekends and his officers busy.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.